Stories from Hospitalfield: Anda Paterson

In November 2015 Hospitalfield curated an exhibition called Continuum. The starting point for the exhibition was a conversation with two artists, Victoria Morton and Michael Fullerton on the importance of those who have inspired and taught the next generation of artists. Whether celebrated or not as great artists, we are reading art history less well than we should if we leave out the stories of the great teachers.

Continuum was an exhibition that started an enquiry as part of our ongoing research. We are committed to focussing on those who ‘made’ the next generation; the great teachers that emerged from Hospitalfield in the 20th century and before.

Continuum showed new work by Victoria Morton and Michael Fullerton and commissioned a performance by the great artist and teacher Alistair McLennan who is also an alumnus of Hospitalfield.

As we move forward with this enquiry we have asked Victoria Morton to write about the artist that was a great influence to her, Anda Paterson. Anda was a recipient of a scholarship at Hospitalfield in 1958 before going on to teach.

Stories from Hospitalfield: Anda Paterson

Victoria Morton, July 2020

Anda Paterson’s paintings and prints explore the ‘human condition’ (her phrase). Beauty is not the goal so much as humanist realism. Now in her 80’s she continues to draw and exhibit, working from her crammed studio in the house she shared with her late husband the painter Jim Spence. Back when they were students at Glasgow School of Art in 1957, Anda co-founded The Glasgow Group with Jim and their friend James Morrison, citing the need for exhibiting and commercial opportunities and helping establish the culture of Glasgow’s collective art organisations. Later on, artist run spaces like Transmission opened and continue to provide exhibition opportunities today. Among Anda’s contemporaries were the artists George Wyllie, Alasdair Gray and Carol Gibbons. She was on personal terms with Joan Eardley. Many of this diverse and active group remained
loyal friends over all the years that followed.

It was also during 1957-58, that she studied at Hospitalfield House then known as Hospitalfield College of Art. Anda can be seen in group photographs with her young peers in a kind of tableau vivant, posing at painting ‘en plein air’. The artist stands tall and poised. She had studied dance until told her height would not permit her a career in ballet. On one visit I made to Anda and Jim’s home in Cardross she recalled stories about her time at Hospitalfield, her gang given free run of the house mischievously played dressing up and late night theatrical games.

I first knew Anda Paterson as Mrs. Spence, when she was my art teacher at Jordanhill Secondary School in the 1980s. Sticking to traditional means and ideas she enthusiastically brought a sense of experimentation, focus and bohemian energy to the class room. She would joke about flammable etching acid’s potential to blow up declaring “fortunately we’re above the chemistry department.”

Pupils who were artistically inclined and desperate to move on to Art School could tell she was a ‘real’ artist. Also a serious educator, she was committed to helping us get there. An unusually high number of us did. She taught all her own methods and techniques and was ambitious on our behalf. Anda also could persuade parents that a career in the arts was viable. Looking at examples of her paintings and prints now I can see a sophisticated form of the mixed media approach she was teaching us. Her repertoire of materials and methods includes pen and ink, gouache, watercolours, procion dye staining, oil painting, etching, lithography, mono printing, conté and coloured pencil drawing.

Anda is an accomplished, expressionistic draughtswoman, influenced by Egon Schiele, Goya and Käthe Kollwitz and many others. Her chosen subjects are people worn and ragged from the hardships of life, often shown with their animal companions. Robust or delicate line drawing maps out the puffy, wrinkled faces of her people, exaggerated hands and feet, rumpled clothing and tired, heavy gestures. Her figures are rhythmically composed to occupy all the space of the canvas. The composition functions as a theatre set, steering our gaze and thoughts onto characters. Line is the rational, even sometimes brutal, descriptive element here but it is drawn with expressive repetition, sketching over and again, fixing and plotting precise detail and creating sculptural forms. Colour on the other hand is applied in an abstract, sometimes ‘automatic’ manner. I would guess it comes into play after the drawing. Its bold, instinctive presence conveys another psychological layer. Working with inky cherry reds, umbers, cobalts and purple hues or pastel blues and lilac, the palest yellow and green, Anda creates saturated and textured surfaces. The colour is often rich and delicious, sinking deep into the canvas or paper but bringing seductive vibrancy to the fore. It is a powerful counterpoint to the tough drawing. The tension and cooperation between these elements is what makes Anda’s paintings particular and unique. Anda’s subjects may be down and out but life force pulses on and is celebrated. She commented:

‘I am fascinated by the structure and formation of human heads and hands creases, hollows, baggy skin around knuckles and wrists. With irony and poetic justice I am rapidly developing a strong resemblance to my drawings of vulnerable and time worn people, becoming a caricature of myself… My images have wrecked their revenge on me for my chasing and collecting them. I love drawing monumental figures, forever sitting in extended rows, perhaps in the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, or in Portugal, waiting for the bullfight and the Feasts of Easter’.*

From the 1960s on Anda and Jim travelled regularly in Spain and Portugal. During these trips hot and dusty village life provided Anda with a wealth of source material for her art. One oil painting ‘The Bread Sellers’ of 2008, which is held in the collections of Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, tells the story of Portuguese market workers. The pictorial narrative is carried by the handling of the medium, in a way typical of Paterson’s best works. These women, like their horse, have endured hard work, and the bread they sell is a daily necessity. Bare canvas and sparse, chalky colours, evoke dry clay
earth. She said:

‘I paint what I observe and know of their life and mine, observation and experience…The messy untidiness of human life, on one hand ridiculous and comic on the other, struggling, anxious and sometimes tragic — this is my subject matter. No romantic dreaming or glamour — the human figure before being tidied up, polished, or glamorised, the moment in time, before becoming aware of being looked at’.**

*Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour 

**Helensburgh Heritage Trust